Female Power and Religious Change in the Medieval Near East

Publication Year



Uriel Simonsohn, Ph.D. 2008.

  • Provides the first comprehensive study of female power in the framework of the family during a period that was crucial for the formation of Islamic civilization
  • Gives a comprehensive consideration of the place of women in the Islamization of the early and medieval Near East
  • Analyses a broad variety of literary genres of Jewish, Eastern Christian, and Islamic provenance
  • Considers the phenomenon of conversion to Islam through the prism and experiences of women

Female Power and Religious Change in the Medieval Near East engages with two levels of scholarly discussion that are all too often dealt with separately in modern scholarship: the Islamization of the Near East and the place of women in pre-modern Near Eastern societies. It outlines how these two lines of inquiry can and should be read in an integrative manner. Major historical themes such as conversion to Islam, Islamization, religious violence, and the regulation of Muslim/non-Muslim ties are addressed and reframed by attending to the relatively hidden, yet highly meaningful, role that women played throughout this period.

This book is about the history of Islam from the perspective of female social agents. It argues that irrespective of their religious affiliation, women possessed crucial means for affecting or hindering religious changes, not only in the form of religious conversion, but also in the adoption of practices and the delineation of communal boundaries. Its focus on the role and significance of female power in moments of religious change within family households offers a historical angle that has hitherto been relatively absent from modern scholarship. Rather than locating signs of female autonomy or authority in the political, intellectual, religious, or economic spheres, Female Power and Religious Change in the Medieval Near East is concerned with the capacity of women to affect religious communal affiliations thanks to their kinship ties.

Table of Contents

Note on transliteration systems, translations, dates, and references
List of abbreviations
1. Contours of Family Dynamics
2. 'Even though it be against yourselves, or your parents and kinsmen' (Q 4:135)-The Prioritization of God over Family
3. Religiously-Mixed Families as Sites of Competing Religious Traditions
4. 'No bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another' (Q 53:38)-The Liminal Position of Women in Religiously-Mixed Families
5. Female Conversion to Islam-Religious Defiance and Feminine Resistance
6. Precarious Gatekeepers-Female Power and Religious Conflict
Primary Literature
List of Geniza documents
Secondary Literature

Series Title
Oxford studies in the Abrahamic religions
Oxford University Press
Oxford and New York